Pope Francis’s Iraq visit respects Abraham’s tent

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light. 

By Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The patriarch Abraham and his wife, Sarah, are universally respected by the three largest Near Eastern monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 

In what I see as the most consequential official act of his reign, Pope Francis last week visited Iraq and its ancient city of Ur, site of the home of Abraham before the Almighty told him to leave Ur and go to “The Land I will show you,” the city of Hebron in Canaan, in what became Israel. 

According to The New York Times, the Pope made the arduous and risky trip to appeal for solidarity among faiths.

By holding the culmination of his trip in the traditional home of Abraham, Pope Francis honored the founder of Judaism and Christianity.  

Abraham is respected for his rejection of idolatry and embrace of monotheism, and also is admired for his hospitality, for having a tent that was “open on all sides.”  

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Pope Francis made his trip to Iraq despite suffering from painful sciatica, and in spite of warnings that terrorist factions in the war-weary nation might attack him.  

The pope wanted to fulfill the mission of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who visited Israel, where he prayed at the Western Wall and Jordan, where he stood on Mount Nebo, from which Moses viewed the Promised Land. 

Sadly, while there are large numbers of Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq, the once robust Jewish and communities are dwindling.

Iraq used to be home to 150,000 Jews.  Now there are between a handful and a dozen Jews left in Iraq, and they either did not respond to the pope’s invitation or were prevented from meeting with, according to different accounts. 

Iraq is also home to some of the most ancient religious minorities such as the Chaldeans and Yazidis, whose ranks have been diminished by wars and persecution.

 As the Times reported, “some once vibrant communities had already essentially vanished from Iraq altogether, including Abraham’s Jewish descendants,” who were absent from the meeting.  

That poignant reality does not diminish the powerful symbolic importance of Pope Francis’s visit to the birthplace of the patriarch, prophet and founder Abraham, whose legacy lives on. 

Thank you, Pope Francis for paying respects at the ancient  Tent of Abraham from which he set in motion the foundations of the most ancient monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam and their shared quest for shalom, peace and salaam. 

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